In the eyes of many
viewers, Chicagoan Marty Casey suffered a heartbreaking loss when he made it
to the final round as one of two singers vying to replace Michael Hutchence
on TV's "Rock Star: INXS," only to lose to a former Elvis impersonator. But
if you ask me, he was the real winner.
I first met Casey and his
long-time bandmates in what was then the Swinging Lovehammers in a parking
lot at O'Hare in 1998 as they were flying to Austin, Texas, to perform at
the South by Southwest Music & Media Conference. They clearly believed in
themselves and their music, and they were committed to working as hard as
possible to bring their sound -- a mix of old-school hard rock, Midwestern
power-pop and a hint of Foo Fighters-style alternative -- to as big an
audience as possible.
Casey and the rhythm
section of Dino and Bobby Kourelis met as 10-year-olds playing T-ball in
west suburban Hickory Hills. They formed the band during freshman year of
high school and played for their friends. "Someone's parents would be out of
town or out to dinner on a Saturday night," Casey says, "and we would set up
the equipment in their living room and start playing."
Over the years, the
group built a strong following via the usual indie-rock methods: independent
releases, low-budget touring and constant gigging, getting to a point where
they could headline at the Vic Theatre. But breaking through to the next
level proved daunting -- until Casey got a call last year from a friend who
recommended he audition for a new TV show, a hipper version of the dreaded
"I was intrigued," Casey
says. "I had never, ever tried out for anything or played with anyone
outside of the Lovehammers. I always had [guitarist] Billy [Sawilchik] and
Bobby and Dino behind me, like the Chicago Mafia; they would never let
anyone say anything bad about me! I wasn't thinking of getting on the show
and going as far as I did; it was like, 'I'm going to go to this audition
and see what I've got as a solo performer.'"
The audition proved to
be the start of a seven-month ordeal, including 12 weeks of taping. Casey
claims he has never watched the show -- "I lived it!" -- and treated the
whole roller-coaster ride as a lark and way to win the Lovehammers their big
"I have a hard time
looking back at it and actually believing that it's me, because I feel like
I got abducted by aliens and now I've been set back here on Earth and
everything just happens to be a little different," Casey says. "My family
was trying to get me to watch the show with them and share any gory details
about what really happened, but I told them, 'I just don't really want to
When the singer told his
bandmates he'd be doing the show, they reacted with 45 minutes of stunned
silence, and the bad feelings grew from there. "They were freaked out, and
really, really upset, and I completely understood. Before, I had never taken
a trip, whether to Europe or Mexico, where I hadn't come back early because
we had a super-great gig in Madison, Wis., or wherever on Saturday night."
During their singer's
absence, Lovehammers made the best of things, doing special gigs with guest
vocalists after screenings of the show and rooting for their childhood
friend -- until the final round.
"If they could have
called me at that point, they would have said, 'OK, now it's time to lose,'"
Casey says, laughing. "And honestly, when I was standing up there at the
last moment and I was ready for them to either choose me or J.D. [Fortune],
in my heart I was like, 'Pick J.D.' I didn't feel that way through the rest
of the competition. But I have been in Lovehammers for 16 years, and I knew
that the members of INXS could understand that kind of dedication, because
they've been doing it for 25 years."
In the end, Casey
allegedly lost, as INXS chose Fortune to shift from being a fake Elvis to
imitating another dead singer. But as I said, Casey was the real winner.
After a decade and a
half in the trenches, Lovehammers are releasing their first major-label
album for Epic, a self-titled disc that includes songs from throughout their
career, among them "Trees," the tune that garnered such attention on the
The group is now managed
by Doc McGee -- whose clients have included Kiss, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi
-- and who was alone among the people approaching Casey after the show to
recommend that he stick with Lovehammers, rather than going solo.
Finally, Marty Casey &
Lovehammers are opening for INXS on their first jaunt with their new lead
singer (in a sold-out show at the Chicago Theatre on Saturday night). I, for
one, have little doubt that they will be the better band onstage, as well as
the one with the brighter future.
REASONS FOR LIVING
rock on television, we're only two episodes into the new sitcom "Love
Monkey" -- the third airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on WBBM-Channel 2 -- but I'm
hooked. This is TV's smartest, funniest look inside the music business since
-- well, ever.
The show follows a
smart, talented but emotionally insecure guy named Tom (Tom Cavanagh from
"Ed") who works as a record company A&R man or talent scout, combining the
best elements of the heroes in "Almost Famous," "Jerry Maguire" and "High
Fidelity." (Cameron Crowe and list-making author Nick Hornby are clearly the
big influences here.) An idealistic music geek, Tom is fired from his cushy
major-label gig and turns to an indie, where he hopes to emphasize artistry
While I agree with my
TV-critiquing colleague Doug Elfman that the third of the show devoted to
Tom's interactions with his three manly-men buddies is pretty dumb (nowhere
near as sharp as "Entourage," but not as bad as "Four Kings," either), I'm
watching because every music business character so far -- from Tom to Eric
Bogosian as a satanic major-label president to the jangly emo singer Wayne
(Teddy Geiger), and from Britney Spears clone Zoe (Natalie Zvereva) to the
lame Jewel-like folk singer (Milena Govich) -- has been spot-on, and
Add in a string of
cameos (Ben Folds, LeAnn Rimes), cool rock locations (C.B.G.B., the Chelsea
Hotel) and a good soundtrack, and you have a winner, though, like the record
industry itself, its days are probably numbered, so enjoy it while it lasts.